Promoting tourism, business

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Groups report on efforts this past year

By John Barnhart

Bedford City Council received an update from Bedford Main Street and the Welcome Center during its meeting last week.

    After two soggy Centerfests in a row, this year’s event benefited from good weather. Dan Plattus, Main Street’s office manager, said that Centerfest brought 17,000 people into Bedford’s Centertown. Plattus said that the organization expanded the festival’s footprint this year to additional streets. That meant that vendors were not crowded.
    Second Fridays, which began in April, is working out well, he told council. Plattus said that the event had good initial response and foot traffic in Centertown continues to increase, although the 2nd Fridays in the fall have been getting competition from high school football games. He said that about 40 merchants have been staying open until 8 p.m.  The last 2nd Fridays for the year will be on Dec. 3. Then, the event will take a break for the winter and restart in April.
    Plattus said that Centertown buildings have a 93.5 percent occupancy rate and efforts to promote business there include three billboards on U. S. 460. These are part of Main Street’s efforts to brand Centertown as an art and antique district. Another part of this effort is putting up murals. One was completed at the corner of North Bridge Street and Depot Street, and plans for a second mural are being made.
    Upcoming events include    a  Black  Friday   sale   on  the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Centertown Christmas tree lighting is scheduled for Dec. 3 and carriage rides will be available on each of the first three Fridays of December. The Christmas Parade is slated for Dec. 4 and, after last year, organizers have learned their lesson.
    “This year  we have a rain date,” Plattus commented.
    That is set for Dec. 5, just in case.
    It’s been a good year for the Welcome Center thanks to its partnership with the National D-Day Memorial, which began in March.
    “Visitation at the Welcome Center has skyrocketed this year,” said Sergey Troubetzkoy, the Bedford area’s director of tourism.
    The Welcome Center became the site of the Memorial’s ticket station and this gives the Welcome Center the opportunity to call visitors’ attention to other offerings in the area that they may want to see.  For the first 10 months of 2010, the Bedford Welcome Center has had 49,315 visitors in comparison with 26,015 visitors during 2009.
    The Welcome Center depends on volunteers.
    “We couldn’t operate the Welcome Center without volunteers,” said Troubetzkoy.
    The Welcome Center is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week, which, according to Troubetzkoy, is necessary to get state recognition and highway signage.
    As part of the effort to promote the area as a tourist destination, Troubetzkoy’s department hosted 23 travel counselors from AAA this year. It also got involved with the Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th anniversary celebration with the “More Than A Mountain” art exhibit which took place from May 29 through July 10. It featured 180 works of art that were displayed at various locations in Bedford. It drew visitors from across Virginia and seven other states. The effort has also included setting up displays at 21 travel shows in various states.
    They’ve been working on group tour promotions. Troubetzkoy said his staff has met with 40 group tour operators during the American Bus Association Marketplace and 32 operators as part of the Travel South Showcase.
    Along with its Web site, the Welcome Center is now on Facebook and Twitter. And, people who see the film Lake Effects will see Bedford. Troubetzkoy said that he talked the developers of the film to come into the city and shoot some scenes.
    “Franklin County may not be happy with me,” he commented.
    Tourism brings in tax revenue. The lodging tax generated $21,121.18 in the first six months of this year. The meals tax brought in $330,441.16.
    Also on Tuesday, Bedford City Council also honored Darryl Updike for his 27 years of service with the Bedford City Police Department. Updike, who retired on Sept. 1, most recently served as the school resource officer at Bedford Middle School.